Dinh Son Quan • Bun Ta • I Love Dumplings
Đinh Sơn Quán
I’m pushing out this quick compilation post of recent cheap eats that Fatbee and I have been exploring. I’ve been blog-lazy lately and all the photos here were taken with my iPhone… which correlates closely with our ‘relaxed’ approach towards eating on a day-to-day basis just to subsist on our working days without having to stress about cooking.
I confess part of this change in food priorities has to do with this time of year. Summer is like a madhouse at my workplace, which means photo-editing and blogging takes second spot until I get a bit of a breather.
Either way, Fatbee and I have a soft spot for Footscray as our weeknight cheap eats spot. It’s but a 5 minutes drive from home plus parking’s free and widely available in the nighttime, with many many eating options available within walking distance. While Richmond is a valid alternative, I personally find the difference in quality not big enough to warrant facing the heavier traffic getting there (not to mention the difficult parking).
Dinh Son Quan sits in a corner of my favourite Asian wet market: Little Saigon. In my culinary worldview, the dingier looking the place, the more likely you’ll be getting an authentic feed. And Dinh Son fits that bill perfectly. It’s a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant with a takeaway side enterprise with oodles of delicious looking unfamiliars sitting on bain marie trays enticing market-goers.
But we decided to have a sit-in meal that night. After we ordered, we could hear the uncle out the back blasting up his giant wok and frying our meal up. Not long after, two plates of rice arrived, to which we promptly sent one plate back… because look at that crazy mountainous serve of rice!! It’s obviously geared more towards Australian-sized stomachs… but for Fatbee and I, we’d probably only have ⅓ of that amount of rice for most of our meals (unless the accompanying dishes includes my ultimate weak spot – roast duck!).
Sườn Heo Rang Muối $12.00
Spare Ribs Pork in Spicy Fine Spice Sauce
Fatbee picked deep fried spare ribs as our meat dish, which came in a hefty serve with lots of flavour.
Rau Cải Xào Tàu Hủ $9.00
Combination vegetable with Bean Curd
I picked our vegetable accompaniment, which turned out to be a mountain of bean sprouts and chives stir-fried with semi-firm squares of tofu.
The food at Dinh Son isn’t spectacular, but the prices are very friendly and the servings huge. We could not finish, took the leftovers home and got ourselves two more boxes of takeaway dishes from the bain marie. All up, our dinner (with the takeaways) set us back $35, and it fed us for 2-3 more meals. That’s almost as cheap as cooking at home (albeit less healthy).
108 Hopkins Street
Footscray, VIC 3011
03 9687 4130
On another lazy weeknight, we headed back to Footscray for another cheap feed. This time trying out a newish joint located just a few doors away from Sapa Hills. I noticed that this lot has seen the turnaround of a few Vietnamese joints that did not quite make a mark in the scene on Hopkins St. But Bun Ta seemed to be drawing a bigger crowd than previous ventures.
Chả Giò Thập Cẩm $8.00
Combination spring rolls
Fatbee wasn’t too hungry that evening and had an uncomplicated serve of crunchy spring rolls. I liked how the fresh greens served with it did not come still dripping wet from washing (a pet peeve of mine when dining at Vietnamese eateries).
Bún Thịt Nướng $10.00
Rice vermicelli with grilled pork
Being summer, I went with a classic Bun Cha with grilled pork. It satisfied me because the pork was succulent and it had a nice chargrilled flavour.
I find that when it comes to Footscray, how new or slick a joint looks like does not necessarily correlate with the food becoming inauthentic. The quality’s still good here, with the slight difference in that portion sizes may be smaller and the customer demographic tends to be a bit more Western… plus they drink wine with their meals.
I Love Dumplings
297 Racecourse Rd
Flemington, VIC 3031
03 9372 5218
Our final spot for this post is an eatery in Flemington that has revamped its image over the years and eventually hit upon a winning formula. This place used to be called Chinese Spicy & Barbie Kitchen, with an eclectic menu of interesting Chinese dishes including several grilled offal offerings.
Over the years, they clued-in that Melburnians can’t get enough of dumplings and (thanks to Dainty Sichuan) they also love their Sichuan fare. So they changed their concept into a dumpling-focussed enterprise with an accompanying huge menu of Sichuanese all-star dishes that had made Dainty so popular. The final adjustment towards success was the name change from “Chinese Spicy Barbie Kitchen” into something a lot catchier. On this note, I wonder if they took inspiration from I Love Pho 264.
Our visit here happened shortly after they’d moved a few doors down to this larger store space, in fact we came here for dinner on New Years Day! The interior is a lot less gaudy-quirky than what it used to be back in the old premises.
Steamed pork dumplings with Sichuan chili sauce (15pcs) $9.8
It was a warmish day, so we did not go overboard with our ordering. Just a simple serve of chilli dumplings which had a lovely juicy filling but came rather spartan in the chilli oil condiment department. That small teaspoon dab of chilli oil on top of it all is just sooo scaredy-cat for a dish that’s supposed to be spicy! All that said, I enjoyed these dumplings.
Deep fried eggplant with sweet chilli sauce, carrot and coriander $16.8
We also decided to sample one of our favourite Sichuan dishes – namely the fish fragrant eggplant. The version here was below par because there was a lot of batter covering the jenga-like sticks of eggplant (too thick!) and the sauce was cloyingly sweet and tomatoey without any spice.
The menu at I Love Dumplings is pretty massive and we’ve barely touched the surface on what this place offers. However, I have been visiting Chinese Spicy & Barbie Kitchen over the years and in general, I tend to find that the flavours have progressively been toned down to suit local palates, which is a trend that I’ve also seen happening at Dainty Sichuan in the past 3-4 years. I think that’s such a pity, but on the business front, based on how busy it was when we’d visited, this is what works in Melbourne.
The other Sichuanese dishes in the menu still looks very delicious (thanks to good food photography) and I may give this place another go, next time with a bigger group of heavy eaters. But if I’m visiting this place for a quick and easy feed, I’ll probably just stick with the dumplings, which (based on previous visits) tends to outshine the other dishes. And on a final note, thank goodness they didn’t name this joint into “I Love Dumplings 297”!